Quesnel Civic Election 2011: How sweet it is!
WITH APOLOGIES TO ROY PETERSON
Quesnel Civic Election 2011: How sweet it is!
by Arthur Topham
October 2, 2011
Revelations abound! Thanks in large measure to the courageous efforts on the part of the Quesnel Cariboo Observer's astute and forthright editor, Autumn Macdonald, practically every edition of the local rag contains at least one article, letter or reference to the ongoing municipal race and those who vie for the gold pan city crown.
Two recent letters to the editor have given both sides in this fiercely contentious debate over government spending and leadership ability added impetus – firstly the letter from local Chartered Accountant, Ronald E. Rasmussen that appeared in the September 21, 2011 edition and secondly the most recent expose on the matter, a long and detailed account by Councillor Ron Paull addressing the Rasmussen letter and much of the controversy that's been spicing up the Observer's pages for months. Unfortunately, to date, neither of these letters are available online other than on the QC Sentinel and can be found here and here. I'm sure that it's but an oversight and they'll be posted on the Observer soon.
In the case of Coun. Paull it was his first public contribution to the growing friction that was generated when the city's finance chairperson, Coun. Sushil Thapar first commenced the onerous task of cleaning up the city's books back in the spring of this year only to find himself being stonewalled and hamstrung by many of his fellow Councillors as well as City Manager John Steyck when it came to furnishing him with all the proper receipts related to their expense accounts.
Somewhat dumbfounded by these moves Coun. Thapar persevered in his efforts to do the job he was appointed to do even in the face of having been asked to pay out of his own pocket for documents that should have been his right to access given the portfolio that he oversees.
In my own case I also found out rather quickly how Mayor Sjostrom and the City Manager, John Steyck viewed any criticism of their actions when a letter of mine was published in the Observer on June 21, 2011 wherein I asked both of them some tough questions. Rather than receiving any rational reply from either, instead I found myself the recipient of a letter from the city's Vancouver law firm of Murdy & McAllister threatening me with a defamation suit unless I publicly retracted what was written in the letter and apologized to the Mayor and City Manager. That alone was a telling move on Mayor Mary's part and only reinforced the fact that a resolution to the problems which Coun. Thapar was encountering were not about to be resolved quickly or amicably. It was also indicative of the fact that such decisions were not being made by council as a whole but in special meetings of only select members of the city's inner sanctum, Coun. Thapar and Coun. Paull having been conveniently exempted from voting on such a move.
The question therefore obviously arises – is this the type of leadership that the city of Quesnel should expect in the coming times ahead?
As Jon Ferry, staff writer for the Vancouver Province recently stated in his article, Politicians feeding greedily at public trough, "Mayors and councillors from across the province seem to be having a grand old time in Vancouver this week for their annual Union of B.C. Municipalities convention. It's undoubtedly good for the downtown hotel and beverage trade. But, given the worrying economy, I think they should have stayed home this year and held their meetings by teleconference, saving a ton of taxpayers' money."
And it is a "worrying economy" as evidenced by the fact that Canada's federal deficit for the fiscal year that ended in March, 2011 now stands at C$36.2 billion.
But to return to the local scene can we expect any better given what the great white father in Ottawa is saddling the Canadian taxpayers with? Corporate taxes are down and personal taxes up.
Coun. Paull's letter cuts to the chase with his opening remarks:
"Was the auditor instructed to adjudicate only the paper trail and not the eligibility and propriety of some of the mayor’s expenses? Why didn’t his opinion go beyond simply saying that all the paperwork is in order? Why, in spite of saying in his letter that he conducted a “review of the overall purpose of the supporting documentation” did he not say (or at least politely hint) that some of those expenses were clearly not eligible to have been claimed? Is he not aware that certain of those expenses are not eligible for reimbursement because under the Canada Income Tax Act, all local government elected officials receive a large portion (in our case it is one third) of their pay as an expense allowance?"
Some of the pertinent questions (along with relevant receipts) contained in Coun. Paull's revealing letter were:
• "Why were some questionable forms of receipts accepted by staff? Why do some receipts consist of only an Interact receipt, which should not be eligible to take the place of a proper receipt? Why were yet other “receipts” which were hand written on what appeared to be part of a napkin approved?"
• "Why are gifts of chocolates, pedicures and other treats for staff and others from an elected official not paid from that elected official’s one third tax-free expense allowance, rather being charged to the taxpayer twice? Further, are some employees more equal or more deserving of gifts and treats than others?
• "Why does the mayor betray our own “shop local” campaign by shopping for the City stuff (as evidenced by receipts) at Costco, London Drugs, Home Depot and other out-of-town stores?"
• "Why does the mayor apparently prefer to travel by private taxi as opposed to the much more economical, (albeit humble) hotel shuttle or transit, Airporter or Canada Line? This is contrary to our travel policy that requests that we use the most economical means of commercial transportation possible. In fact, if we choose to take our personal vehicle on an approved trip, we are paid the fifty cents per kilometre or the airfare equivalent, whichever is the lesser."
• "Why was a Blackberry cover approved as a claimable expense? Each of us, including the mayor, receive a generous fifty dollar monthly technology allowance to cover costs for our personal cell phone, home fax machine, home computer, laptop, home office supplies and home internet service (we must have internet to access our electronic agendas)."
• "Why is it possible to bypass and be paid more than the set allowance for a local restaurant lunch by simply submitting a receipt for that lunch instead of claiming the lower set allowance on the proper expense claim form? More importantly, why wasn’t that lunch, and many other lunches for that matter, paid for from the one third tax free expense allowance?"
Of all the above receipts shown there is also the question of Mayor Mary having chalked up the $200.00 deductible to taxpayers for a new windshield for her personal vehicle also considered a no no in terms of proper accounting.
Given the fact that the Mayor has a $15,000.00 tax free expense allowance actions such as these do not bode well in terms of Mary's conscientious spending of taxpayers money.
One final question regarding the letter from Rasmussen to City Manager John Steyck remains outstanding and that is why such a move was taken without the prior consent of Council.
All of these examples, while some would like to dismiss or overlook them as merely nickel and dime issues, point to what Jon Ferry was referring to in his Province column, that is, the need for politicians at all levels of government to take serious heed of the fact that the money they feel so lax about tossing around in frivolous ways is and always will be that of the lowly taxpayer who will highly distrust others spending their hard earned money in such fashion.
And so the QuesnelGate sage continues to build as the election draws nigh. Stay tuned folks!